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edible estates: descanso gardens

December 14, 2008

zora naki

i wrote about fritz haeg and his plans to turn front lawns into gardens before, but the latest project in Southern California’s Descanso Gardens is big step up in scale and design.

descanso gardens

The project planted two gardens earlier this year – one side is the typical grass lawn and the other is an edible garden replete with flowers, fruit, veggies and trees. The landscaping is a big improvement over some of the earlier projects, and uses more square-foot-gardening and trellises to good effect.

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I think the project is a great way to get people thinking about the possibilities of front-yard gardens. It’s set up around a house structure so that people can walk through the physical space and relate their physical experience to their own lawns.

My only issue is that the project claims to measure and compare the energy and resource inputs/outputs for both gardens. Their stats are ridiculous.

It’s like comparing apples to oranges. The typical criticisms of a grass lawn rest on the use of chemical fertilizer, weed killer, the power usage of a mower, and the environmental drawbacks of a single water-intensive crop that must be artificially maintained in hostile environments (grass in the desert). This project negates a lot of these negatives by eliminating the chemicals and not using gas to mow the lawn. The grass side uses less labor (845 minutes for the grass vs. 3176 minutes for the garden) and water (3516 gallons vs. 8142 gallons) than the garden.

This doesn’t tell us very much. The garden takes more effort and the yield is 690 plants harvested (what does this mean?). It would have been great to see a site plan, a list of the numbers of plants put in and the specific items harvested. Something more along the lines of those wacky Path To Freedomers.

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As a demonstration garden, the project is great. As a pseudo-scientific experiment, not so much. There is always the economics of measuring utility or satisfaction – playing on a grassy lawn vs. puttering in the planting beds, and this aspect is neglected entirely.

I think that all of us avid but not-so-informed gardeners who are willing and able to put in front-yard gardens would love to see a book of gardening plans laying out planting blueprints by zone, structured for full-season interest. Can someone please write one? Oh, and if you could establish a side business of renting out chickens for pest control (so that i don’t need to set up a coop in my backyard), I would greatly appreciate it.  Thanks!

pest control

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